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INTRO: Former Libertarian Presidential Candidate and author Irwin Schiff hasn't paid taxes for more than a quarter century. He's preached the anti-tax message to thousands of others. But today, in Las Vegas, he'll be arraigned for tax fraud. From Nevada Public Radio, Ky Plaskon reports.
PLASKON: Just off the Las Vegas Strip is a baby blue house converted into offices for Freedom Books. A sign out front preaches, "Why pay taxes if no law says you have to?" It attracts customers like this tall man in shorts and slicked-back hair.
ANONYMOUS: Why do something that you aren't required to do, especially if it causes you any kind of anxiety or anguish.
PLASKON: This gentleman, who won't reveal his name, now has a different kind of anxiety: The IRS has slapped a lien on his house. He's come TO THIS NO-TAX MECCA for advice. It comes in the form of a 14-page paper booklet at a cost of 95-dollar written by self-proclaimed authority on taxes, Irwin Schiff. Inside the office, Schiff sits behind a paper-strewn mahogany desk and describes how his tax advice business works.
SCHIFF: What I do is I explain the law, I sell the law, let the people figure it out on their own. They don't have to buy my books, let them buy the internal revenue code, but it would take them a long time to ferret out the information.
PLASKON: He's not an attorney - but after studying the tax code for 30 years argues that the word "income" only applies to corporate profits, not individuals. He used to not file taxes at all, but after being convicted and sent to prison for that in the early 80s he's a changed man. Now he dutifully files income taxes, but fills out all the lines on the 1040 form with a zero. The 76-year-old has written a half-dozen books on anti-tax theories, how taxes and social security are hoaxes and making the case for how they are destroying America. Up until a year ago, he promoted them on his own Las Vegas radio show.
RADIO SHOW: Did you know there is no law requiring you to pay income taxes? It's true . . . Ask the nation's leading authority . . . Irwin Schiff . . . I know it is hard to believe but there is no law requiring you to pay income taxes. . . .
PLASKON: But last year, the IRS caught wind of ads from Schiff on the Michael Savage and Bill O'Reilley shows.
SCHIFF: They must have gone ballistic when they heard my adds on these national shows saying you know you don't have to pay income taxes, get my book.
PLASKON: Schiff and two associates were raided by the IRS and a federal grand jury eventually returned a 33 count indictment charging them with conspiracy, and aiding and assisting in filing almost 5 thousand fraudulent tax returns. Schiff was also charged with tax evasion for not reporting any income for a number of years despite millions of dollars in business receipts. He says he'll plead guilty if and only if the US attorney will show him a law that people who earn income must pay taxes. University of Nevada Las Vegas law professor Steve Johnson says it wont be the first time judges have heard and dismissed Schiff's no-tax arguments.
JOHNSON: The courts have used language when describing his arguments like, frivolous, spurious, blatant nonsense, unworthy of extended discussion and nothing but arrogant sophistry.
PLASKON: The Department of Justice is trying to zip the lips of more anti-tax promoters these days. It began a new initiative in 2001 and since then has taken some 73 tax schemers to court. If Schiff is convicted, he faces 43 years in prison and millions in fines.
For NPR News, I'm Ky Plaskon in Las Vegas